Former Rhode Island Congressman and recovering addict Patrick Kennedy is spearheading the fight against the legalization of marijuana in the United States through his new nonprofit organization, ‘Smart Approaches to Marijuana.’ 

Kennedy, who struggles with alcohol and drug addictions, said in an interview, “I am not the best messenger on this but I am a concerned citizen.”

While marijuana possession is still illegal on the federal level, Colorado and Washington state legalized possession up to one ounce in the recent November elections. Other states, including Massachusetts and New Hampshire, are set to vote on the matter in the coming months as well.

"Our country is about to go down the wrong road, in the opposite direction of sound mental health policy," Kennedy said. "It's just shocking as a public health issue that we seem to be looking the other way as this legalization of marijuana becomes really glamorous."

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On SAM’s website, Kennedy is quoted as saying, “We cannot promote a comprehensive system of mental health treatment and marijuana legalization, which increases permissiveness for a drug that directly contributes to mental illness.”

During his time as Congressman for Rhode Island, Kennedy, the son of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, championed mental health insurance and coverage. During his 16 year tenure, the Congressman revealed that he suffered from alcoholism and depression, as well as addictions to cocaine and prescription painkillers.

Kennedy said, “I can’t stand by and let this move forward without any kind of debate or questioning.”

“This thing could pass right underneath the radar and we will wake up one day and say what were we thinking? I have had a lot of moments like that in my life.”

According to SAM’s website, the organization says it looks to “neither legalize, nor demonize, marijuana,” but does support “smart policies that decrease marijuana use — and do not harm marijuana users and low-level dealers with arrest records that stigmatize them for life and in ways that make it even harder for them to break free from cycles of substance dependence.”

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, slammed Kennedy by saying, “It's almost 'Reefer Madness'-type stuff about marijuana he's [Kennedy] saying.”

“There's something remarkable about Patrick Kennedy deciding to go after users of a drug that is by almost all accounts less dangerous than the drugs he struggled with. Where Patrick Kennedy could have made a really important contribution is by saying that we need a responsible public health model for dealing with legal marijuana."

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The Boston Herald writes that SAM ‘hopes to raise money to oppose legalization messages around the country, shape the legalization laws taking effect in Washington and Colorado, promote alternatives to jail time for pot users and speed up scientific research on the effects of marijuana.’

On the panel for Kennedy’s SAM organization is Kevin Sabet, a former White House drug policy adviser under President Obama; David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush; and Dr. Sharon Levy, chairwoman of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on substance abuse.

The other board members insist that they are not looking to force marijuana-users into treatment, but that there should be more of a public health intervention. They also insist that there are dangers linked to marijuana that are not being publicized properly, similarly to how tobacco boasted no negative side effects originally.